HydraClear Hydrating Acne Gel
This product is sold as a moisturizer and treatment for acne-prone skin but based on its formula it's more accurately described as a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) exfoliant and not a moisturizer. Sadly, like so many other Kate Somerville products, fragrant plant oils are present and capable of causing irritation. As you might suspect, the underlying inflammation irritation causes can quickly make acne skin worse (after all, acne is an inflammatory skin disorder), not better.
BHA is salicylic acid, and that's the active ingredient in here, though this product's 0.5% strength isn't going to have much benefit for breakouts—especially given the formula's pH of 4.4 is above the ideal range salicylic acid needs to exfoliate.
To its credit, the gel formula contains some very good plant-based soothing agents plus skin-repairing sodium hyaluronate, and the main ingredients can hydrate without making oily skin feel slick or greasy.
Things take a sudden turn for the worse due to the formula containing a long list of fragrant, plant-based irritants such as jasmine, eucalyptus, lavender, and numerous citrus oils. The citrus oils can cause a phototoxic reaction when applied to skin that's then exposed to sunlight without adequate sun protection (Source: www.naturaldatabase.com).
In the end, we were left frustrated and perplexed as to why Somerville would combine so many good ingredients with even more problematic ones—but this doesn't add up to a wise buy if you're hoping to reduce acne and the inflammation it causes. See our list of Best Anti-Acne Products for superior options.
- Contains some good soothing agents and fatty acids that can reduce inflammation.
- Lightweight gel texture hydrates without feeling greasy.
- The formula's pH is outside the range its active ingredient needs to exfoliate.
- Contains a long list of irritating plant extracts and fragrant oils.
- The citrus oils pose a risk of causing a phototoxic reaction, which will delay healing of breakouts and potentially cause other discolorations.
Daily use of products that contain a high amount of fragrance, whether the fragrant ingredients are synthetic or natural, causes chronic irritation that can damage healthy collagen production, lead to or worsen dryness, and impair your skin's ability to heal. Fragrance-free is the best way to go for all skin types. If fragrance in your skin-care products is important to you, it should be a very low amount to minimize the risk to your skin (Sources: Inflammation Research, December 2008, pages 558–563; Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, June 2008, pages 124–135, and November-December 2000, pages 358–371; Journal of Investigative Dermatology, April 2008, pages 15–19; Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, March 2008, pages 78–82; Mechanisms of Ageing and Development, January 2007, pages 92–105; and British Journal of Dermatology, December 2005, pages S13–S22).
This lightweight, multifunctional acne treatment and moisturizer helps to reduce and prevent breakouts every day, soothes irritation, and controls shine. Because healthy hydration is essential for oily and acne-prone skin, Bio-derived Hyaluronic Acid and Red Algae provide immediate and long-lasting, oil-free moisturization, without clogging pores, for a clear complexion.
Kate Somerville At-A-Glance
Strengths: Provides complete ingredient lists on their website; effective Anti Bac Clearing Lotion for acne; good eczema cream; some fantastic serums and moisturizers chock-full of beneficial ingredients.
Weaknesses: Expensive; irritating cleansers and scrubs; several products contain irritating ingredients with no proven benefit for skin; disappointing CC cream.
The woman behind this line is a Los Angelesbased aesthetician who owns her own clinic, which specializes not only in aesthetic services but also in cosmetic corrective procedures involving injections (dermal fillers), lasers, Botox, and the like. The clinic is staffed with a doctor and nurses, which is definitely what you want if you're considering services beyond a facial or a massage.
The selling points of this line are Somerville's years of experience in the aesthetics industry and her allegedly devoted celebrity clientele. As such, her products and famous clientele get press in the pages of fashion magazines, which explains why we routinely get asked about this skin-care line. Somerville herself is every bit as attractive as her star clients, and the information on her Web site is presented in such a way that you sincerely believe she has your skin's best interests in mind. And wouldn't you want to trust your skin's needs to a professional who also tends to celebrities?
Knowing all these details, we were anticipating that most of the products bearing Somerville's name would be state-of-the-art slam dunks. Alas, many of them are far afield from that level of formulation. When it comes to giving skin what it needs to function as healthily and normally as possible (and, at these prices, that's what you should expect), this line is, unfortunately, hit or miss. What Somerville knows about giving an amazing facial is one thing, but she clearly missed the research that proves how problematic several of the plant oils that she uses can be. A professional concerned with the health of her clients' skin shouldn't be formulating products with cinnamon, grapefruit, and lavender oils, among others.
If we were one of Somerville's clients, we'd certainly take her to task for that oversight, but we'd also want to know why she offers only one sunscreen and doesn't offer any effective AHA or BHA exfoliants. A discussion of advanced skin science and state-of-the-art ingredients is not sufficient if your product line has gaps: limited sun protection options, no reliable exfoliants, no non-drying cleansers, and a complete lack of options to treat skin discolorations (pigment irregularities, unlike blackheads, cannot be manually extracted, which makes the absence of a skin lightening product an issue).
This product line may not be the one you want to build your skin-care routine around, but there are some exceptional products. Of all the aesthetician-backed lines we've reviewed, none come as close to providing the level of formulary excellence of many of Somerville's moisturizers and serums. They're pricey, but if you're going to spend in excess for skin-care products, you should be doing so on products that stand a very good chance of markedly improving your skins appearance. We are curious to see how this product line will expand and (hopefully) improve over the years. The current mishmash of awesome and awful products makes it risky to shop this line blindly (or on the sole rationale of a celebrity endorsement), but with careful consideration to avoid irritants you can find some products of value. Hopefully, she will expand the line to fill in the current gaps (especially for sun protection) and eliminate the irritants.
For more information about Kate Somerville, now owned by Unilever, call (800) 984-5283 or visit www.katesomerville.com.
About the Experts
The Beautypedia team consists of skin care and makeup experts personally trained by the original Cosmetics Cop and best-selling beauty author, Paula Begoun. We’re fascinated by skin care and makeup products and thrilled when they meet or exceed our expectations, but we’re also disappointed when they fail to perform as claimed, are wildly overpriced, or contain ingredients scientific research has proven can hurt skin.
Our mission has always been to help you find the best products for your skin, no matter your budget or preferences. Beautypedia’s thorough and insightful reviews cut through the hype and provide reliable recommendations for all ages, skin types, and skin tones.